Ben Franklin entertains crowd at O’Hurley’s General Store
SHEPHERDSTOWN — The room grew quiet, as Benjamin Franklin stood in front of the audience at O’Hurley’s General Store on Oct. 16.
Franklin, portrayed by Charleston-based West Virginia Humanities Council actor Leon Alexander, spoke about his life during the Friends of Shepherdstown Library’s annual History Alive! event.
“I’ve been an observer of mankind all my life, and in observing mankind, I notice they put too much value on things,” Franklin said, mentioning he once overpaid for a tin whistle as a child. According to Franklin, he saw another boy with the whistle, and when he asked if he could buy it from the boy, the boy asked him how much money he had. When Franklin told him the amount, the boy told him the whistle cost everything he had. And, while Franklin made the mistake of paying too much for something as a child, he said many adults make the same mistake he made with the whistle, with their own lives.
“I knew a beautiful young girl who married a brutish man for his wealth, and he abused her — she paid too much for her whistle,” Franklin said. “We often pay, in life, too much for our whistle.”
Along with discussing his wise observations, Franklin recounted his career journey — from running away to England from his apprenticeship in his brother’s newspaper in Philadelphia, to working in another newspaper in England, to returning to Philadelphia and running The Pennsylvania Gazette, to becoming an inventor and member of the Continental Congress.
Along with showing off the item he was most proud of signing during his time in the Continental Congress, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, Franklin revealed some of his favorite inventions during the event, including a pair of modern rubber flippers and round bifocals.
“As I’ve aged, I found that I needed two pairs of spectacles. ‘Very impractical,’ I thought. I went to a lens maker, and had him design me a pair of double spectacles,” Franklin said, mentioning his inventions were the result of his love of nature. “I loved science, I loved the study of nature and of natural things.”
As Franklin came to the conclusion of his speech, he opened up the discussion to questions from the audience. And, although some of the questions were intentionally difficult, Franklin graciously and tactfully answered all of them.
At the end of the presentation, Franklin removed his wig, revealing the actor underneath, much to the surprise of the audience.
“Well, guess what, I’m not Benjamin Franklin!” he said, as laughter rippled across the audience.